Winter Fan Dance

In December I was starting to wind down my Year of Challenges, and feeling quite low with nothing at all booked in 2015, when along came some of my training friends, who convinced me that I should join them in doing the Fan Dance in January. Their enthusiasm during our training session was contagious and once I got home I signed up to the tough, prestigious race, that would see us clambering over a mountain in the middle of winter.

After signing up on little less than a whim, the avalanche of emails for the event came through, which detailed the required tonne of  kit that I didn’t yet have, and the scariest safety warning I’ve read, and I started to regret my decision to sign up. I hadn’t done any specific training for this event, just my usual classes, running and personal training sessions, which left me in some doubt as to my ability to actually get safely over the mountain and back again.

Race Description

Despite my worries, some good advice, encouragement from friends and a shopping spree later and I was as ready as I was going to be, and we packed 7 of us into 2 cars full of kit and made the road trip to Wales.

The Fan Dance is run by Avalanche Endurance Events, and is based on the course used by the SAS as selection criteria. It is a 24km trek over Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. The race takes you up from the red phone box to the peak of Pen Y Fan, down Jacobs ladder on the other side, and along an old Roman road, at the end of which you turn around and retrace your steps back up and over the mountain again.

We travelled up the day before the race and stayed over, as we had a 9am start, and spent a quiet evening cut off from the outside world, although we did meet Joe De Sena, the Spartan Race founder in a pub!

Meeting Joe De Sena in a pub. With Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams
Meeting Joe De Sena in a pub. With Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams

The Race

We woke up bright an early, and there was a smattering of snow on the ground, it was cold, with a biting wind. We pulled on our kit, gulped down some porridge and sorted out our backpacks. We were all running Clean Fatigue rather than loaded, but this being winter there was still quite a sizeable kit list that we were supposed to take with us in-case of emergencies, which included a warm jacket, emergency meal, emergency blankets and 2 litres of water amongst other things.

Us before the Fan Dance, at the old red phone box. (From L-R Kev Coda, Me, Dom Wright, Bob Cornford, Russ Keen, Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams)
Us before the Fan Dance, at the old red phone box.
(From L-R Kev Coda, Me, Dom Wright, Bob Cornford, Russ Keen, Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams)

 

We gathered at the bottom of the mountain to listen to the safety briefing, where we were told about how the wind had picked up a sheep the day before and flung it through the air, and were warned about where the wind would be the most treacherous, being told to keep over to the side or we may well get blown over the cliff edge and die – not the most reassuring safety talk I’ve heard!

Feeling cold in the wind, we were counted down and we began the assent, a thigh burning start to the race which soon warmed us back up. After climbing around 150m in the first kilometre there was a rocky decent followed by another steep climb.

The first part of the race for me was horrendous, I got stomach cramps that were debilitating. They came on suddenly and I had to stop moving, I thought I was going to throw up, and I was having to seriously consider turning round and heading back down to the start. Russ, Kev and Dom all stopped with me, offering to take my backpack, and trying to help. I kept moving as much as I could, pride keeping me moving more than anything – I couldn’t bare the thought of turning back and having to tell people that I had failed. I wouldn’t let the boys take my bag either, If I was doing it, I was doing it properly. I pushed on and thankfully the cramps died off, and as we climbed higher and jogged along a fairly flat section for a bit I finally started to enjoy myself and it was worth it just for the views.

One of the views on the accent up Pen Y Fan
One of the views on the accent up Pen Y Fan

We continued up to the summit, where the wind whipped round, but we paused to take in the views and have photos at the top.

At the Summit with Dom Wright, Kev Coda and Russ Keen
At the Summit with Dom Wright, Kev Coda and Russ Keen

We then crossed the peak and headed down Jacobs Ladder, it was steep, and windy enough to knock you off your feet, there was also ice over the path making it slippery. We carefully picked our way down, then picked up speed down the hillside. We made good pace down the rocky paths, Kev took a bit of a spill, and I somehow saved myself from what would have been a spectacular face-plant with some vigorous wind-milling of my arms, as we hit the old Roman road we were jogging along happily, feeling quite warm, and really enjoying the race.

We hit the turn around point, checked in and had a bit of food, then turned around and headed back the way we came. Going back up the Roman road was much less pleasant as the barely notice decline on the way down made itself felt on the way back up. At this point I started to notice a blister on my foot, the last thing I needed with a long way still to go, and I was really slowing down. I’m really grateful that the boys are all way to nice to leave me on a mountainside alone!

Always time for a quick selfie - taken on our first leg up Pen Y Fan
Always time for a quick selfie – taken on our first leg up Pen Y Fan

We made our way along what had started to feel like a long slog for me, having to walk more often than I could jog, and then promptly falling over when I did try a little run, smashing my elbow and knee into the rocky ground, but being pulled back to my feet by Dominic and another passing guy.

Finally we hit Jacobs Ladder again, and started the brutal climb back to the top. The wind was fierce and I had to stop and grab hold of a rock at one point. My legs were screaming but I knew I had to keep going, there’s not really a lot of alternatives. I had gone from feeling hot to feeling cold, but I had chosen good kit and was able to keep my body temperature up. The boys had all stopped to wait for me, I told them to keep moving, I didn’t want them to freeze, but there was no way they were leaving me now.

We finally got back to the peak of Pen Y Fan, the visibility had deteriorated a little, but so far the weather was still being relatively kind. We started the decent and managed to get a jog on to warm up after our slow climb to the top. For the first time my hands were feeling cold and I was trying to flex my fingers to get the blood flowing again. We jogged our way back down, went up the final climb before beginning to head back down in earnest.

Another shot of some of the views over Pen Y Fan
Another shot of some of the views over Pen Y Fan

As we reached the top of the final hill, and could see the road beneath us, I have never been so happy to see cars in my life! We ran down the hill, the pain in my blister momentarily forgotten as I gleefully made my way down as fast as I dared. We had done it, and completed the brutal Winter Fan Dance, no one had died, and we all completed it inside of 4 hours. Elated we collected our finishers patches and posed for a final picture by the phone box.

At the end, with our patches
At the end, with our patches

This was an absolute epic challenge, the toughest thing I’ve ever done, furthest I’ve ever run (well run-ish), and an amazing experience.

Kit

I’m adding this section as when preparing for this race I found it hard to find advice on what people wore.

Before I start it is important to note that we had really good conditions for the race, there was no precipitation whatsoever, visibility was good, although there was a cold wind and some snow and ice on the ground. With worse conditions I can’t say whether my choices would stand up to the test, but there were perfect for me on the day and I was pleased with my choices.

Starting from my feet, I wore my Salomon Fellraiser shoes, with two pairs of socks. I had my Inov-8 Mudsoc’s with a pair of my Prosoks over the top. My feet were warm throughout and even when freezing water got into my shoes I had no discomfort from the cold. I also used Inov-8 debris gaiters.

On my legs I wore a pair of thermal 2XU compression leggings, which were superb, my legs were never cold once, even in the winds at the top. I had a pair of waterproof trousers in my backpack, but they were not needed on the day. The leggings also helped to keep cramp at bay up the steep inclines.

On my top half I had on a long sleeve Inov-8 merino wool base layer, with my long sleeve RPCC Obstacle Course Race Team top over it. I also had a t-shirt in my bag and a small thermal fleece in my bag – but again they were un-needed on the day. Over the top I wore an Inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell jacket, which is thin, but waterproof and windproof and was excellent at the top of the mountain, without being too hot when we were running in the well sheltered areas.

I finished off with a wrag around my neck, which I could pull up over my face if needed, my dirty dozen bobble hat (because I never got round to buying a more suitable one – since it didn’t rain though the hat was perfect), and I started off with my darkfin gloves but quickly swapped to a pair of thermal ski gloves which were easier to take on and off and were warmer.

After being really worried about what I was going to wear, I was really happy with my choices in the end, which kept me warm when needed without me being way to hot when we were sheltered.

Lauren and I in unintentionally matching outfits
Lauren and I in unintentionally matching outfits

 

The London Mud and Obstacle Run – Mud Sweat and Beer

My final race for 2014 saw me take on my third offering from Mud, Sweat and Beer. Having been quite successful at MSB races this year I was hoping to end the year on a high with a good race, I travelled to the race with hubby Phil, along with Kevin Coda joining us for his second MSB experience and Don Wright, who has raced with me a lot this year.

MSB London Road Trip with Phil, Kev and Dom
MSB London Road Trip with Phil, Kev and Dom

Race Description

We were all doing two laps of the 5km course and we arrived as the first 5km runners finished. As we chatted we found out a little about the course, we knew there was one (very cold) lake that we were going to be asked to jump into (or take the longer opt out running route) and that there was also going to be a concrete tunnel full of water to crawl through (again unless we chose the opt out).

It was really cold and we went and sat back in the car until it was time to start the race. There was a short briefing but no warm up and we were directed to the start line.

The Race

At the start line we were told to grab a log, we were then counted down and took a sprint up the field towards a cone by a hedge to drop the log off before heading off for a section of trail running through fields and woods. The ground was difficult to run on, as in places it was soft and in places it was frozen hard. Puddles on the ground had a crust of ice over the top, and to start with my feet were really cold.

As we ran through the woods we hit a tall wooden ladder to climb over and we hit some hills to run up and down, there were also some sections of very cold water to wade through.

A section of running - Pictured with Kevin Coda
A section of running – Pictured with Kevin Coda

As we waded in and out of a stream, scrambling up the short but muddy banks, we eventually came to the water filled concrete tunnel, the boys left it to me to decide our fate – and I opted for through the middle, thinking a crawl through water wouldn’t be that bad and not realising that the tunnel got smaller towards the end, forcing us onto our fronts and getting wet from head to toe.

We ran on, my brilliant Inov-8 base layer again doing its job and allowing my core to warm up fairly quickly. A few more hills and we were headed towards the lake. Again the boys let me decide, and again I decided we were going for it. At this stage we had realised I was ahead of the other women running this race and I didn’t want to take a longer route so we all dived down the tarpaulin into the first part of the lake. The cold hit you like a fist and breathing became difficult, as you pulled yourself along using a rope.

Me, Dom and Kev enjoying the cold water
Me, Dom and Kev enjoying the cold water

Once out of the water the respite was short lived as you ran round a tree and onto a wooden platform where you then jumped into a deeper section of water and were made to swim out and round a tree before swimming back towards the bank where a kind marshal was there to help haul you out of the cold water.

Being helped out of the lake
Being helped out of the lake

Once out of the lake it was a push up a hill and over some small wooden A frames, another hill to push up and down then on towards the start and the main section of obstacles. We climbed over a cargo container, some low metal A’frames, some small wooden slopes, into and out of a skip and over a tall wooden slope with the aid of a rope, a set of monkey bars, which on the first lap we had to skip as someone had fallen off just before we got there, over one final tall metal A frame and then through a plastic tunnel on the right hand side taking us off to our second lap.

By now Dom and I had lost Kev and Phil somewhere behind us so we pushed on together. Taking a second pass at the wooden ladder and through the frozen fields. When we came to the concrete tunnel again we went straight through the middle, we had already done it once, might as well go again. We also went straight through the lake the second time, refusing to take the opt outs available, leaving us heading again back up to the obstacles.

Second pass through the lake
Second pass through the lake

As we ran up the last hill one of the marshals told me I was the first girl, and there were none others in sight, It looked like I had done it. We ran through the final section, I would love to say I nailed the monkey bars on my last race, but again my lack of grip, the cold, and my general pitiful upper body strength were against me and I fell off, then it was over the last A frame and this time through the left hand tunnel which took you directly into the registration tent to collect your medal, wrist band and beer. I had done it, last race of the year and I had finished in first place – what a way to end!

Me with James Ruckley who crossed the line first in both the 5km and the 10km races
Me with James Ruckley who crossed the line first in both the 5km and the 10km races
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Finishers photo with Phil Carrington, Dom Wright, James Ruckley, James Tasker and Kevin Coda

This race concluded my year of challenges, and by the end I had managed to raise over £4000 for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. More than I could have ever hoped for when I started this year, and what I would consider quite a successful year.

 

Judgement Day Team Challenge – Bagshot

I have gotten a little behind on my blog writing in December – something about Christmas and New Year getting in the way, but either side of Christmas I also had my final two races of my year of challenges.

The penultimate race was the Judgement Day Team Challenge, where I had managed to convince some crazy people to join me in a team, to run a race accompanied by two tyres and two sandbags. A bit of an early start but we took the road trip to Bagshot to take on this challenge.

Travelling to JD Team Challenge with some of our team - Chris Williams,  Lauren Edwards-Fowle, Vince James and Myself
Travelling to JD Team Challenge with some of our team – Chris Williams, Lauren Edwards-Fowle, Vince James and Myself

Race Description

This race required a team of between 6 and 8 people, with a minimum of 3 of each gender for a mixed team. We originally had a team of 8 however illness caused one of our girls to drop out at the very last minuet leaving us in a team of 7 on the day. The race was going to be between 5 and 6 miles and as I have already mentioned each team was required to carry with them 2 tyres and 2 sandbags for the entire race, including over any obstacles. This would require team work as dropping any of these would cause the entire team to have to do burpees as a penalty.

Team before selfie
Team before selfie. The Not So Extreme OCR Team: David Beatty, Dom Wright, Chris Williams, Lauren Edwards-Fowle, Bob Cornford, Vince James and Myself

 

The Race

We set off in the first wave, with our sandbags and tyres in tow, off onto what would be a rather hilly trail run. Lauren, Vince (who was carrying an injury) and I taking on most of the tyre carrying leaving the others to deal with the sandbags. We trotted along up some pretty evil hills, until we eventually hit the first wall.

With some teamwork I was the first up and over the wall, with Chris following me up and sitting on top, we then started passing tyres over, a couple more team members over the wall and we had the lighter of the two sandbags over, and with heave we also got the larger red bag up and over without dropping anything, and we were good to go again.

As we moved round the course we found ourselves splitting up a bit, as the heavy sandbag started to take it’s toll.

We came to a barbedwire crawl through the mud, where thankfully the rules about letting the sandbags touch the ground were suspended, we dragged our equipment through and carried on along the hilly trail.

Me looking excited at the crawl
Me looking excited at the crawl

As we continued the race we found ourselves navigating other walls, under and over, more crawls, splashing through water, and hills, hills, hills.

There is always time for a Gunshow (With Lauren and Chris)
There is always time for a Gunshow (With Lauren and Chris)

We gathered the team back together at the water stop, and continued on our run. Chris and Dom requiring special mention for taking on more of their fair share of the sandbag carrying.

Dom and Bob
Dom and Bob
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Chris and I with the sandbag, followed by Vince with one of the tyres

 

We eventually came round to the final obstacle, an inverted wall just before the finish line. We rallied round, using the same tactics we had at the first wall, allowing the whole team to get across the wall without dropping any of the equipment and we were done – with no penalties!

Teamwork on the final wall
Teamwork on the final wall

Once finished we had some photos, and a chat before heading back home (with the traditional and super healthy stop of at McDonald’s on the way!)

The Not So Extreme OCR Team - Finished
The Not So Extreme OCR Team – Finished